S/O college search thread: college counselors

Hi! My daughter is a sophomore at Kent. She started this year, coming from an all girls independent private in the DC area. At her previous school, hiring private college counselors was fairly common. I figured that wouldn’t be necessary if she was at boarding school. However, she recently told me she talked to a senior who was happy with her placement (or maybe a friend did) and they said that the one thing they did that they thought really helped was….hire an outside college counselor.

I know most of the communication is virtual so I guess it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. My daughter is highly academically motivated but I think will need a bit of hand holding through the essay writing process and I’m not really well equipped to handle that. If you’ve been through the process, do you think the college counseling staff at your child’s boarding school was on it or do you wish there had been more hands on work?

Obviously hiring the private counselor is $$ so I don’t want to do it if it’s not necessary, but I have also been told that now is the time to lock the counselor in since they fill up. I don’t really know many other parents at Kent to ask them.

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My belief is that this depends on the individual school. I don’t know how Kent works but my son’s school has a well staffed college counseling office and they had a meeting with the 3rd form parents where they outlined their role for all 4 years. They recommended not hiring an outside counselor but also said if we did, to make sure they knew and they would work closely with them. Their rationale for the recommendation is that they do the same things and it can be hard for students to manage both the school and the outside counselor. They also only have 5-10 students per class assigned to a counselor so there is a lot of time available and individual focus. I don’t think all BS have this and I don’t know what Kent has available.


It was our experience that our college counselor had about 35 students this year. It was my understanding that the school was short one counselor - who had departed last year for another school. We did not use an outside/private counselor, even though as a :golf: parents we are pretty obsessive. We managed to support our kids without hiring someone, but understand that it can be overwhelming for many parents.

Here are some red flags :fire_extinguisher: that might tell you to consider getting a private counselor.

  • How many students is your kid’s counselor helping currently in the application process?

  • Does your kid’s counselor give the same list of target schools to all of their students? Did your kid get a list of colleges - Reach, Target, Safety - that a bunch of other friends received?

  • Do you or your kid know more about the colleges than the counselor?

  • Does your counselor have NO IDEA what your kid is all about?

  • Does your counselor have your kid “pegged” as being something they really are not?

  • Does your counselor seem to take a formulaic approach to advising on colleges?

  • Are the target schools those that your student could have attended if stayed in the local public school? Are reach schools on the list those that feel insulting to your kid, because they are safety schools for his/her/their friends?

  • Is every “from the heart” essay idea suggested by your kid rejected by the counselor without a good explanation?

  • Does the school counselor make your kid feel invalidated? (Hypothetical situation: Kiddo has a 4.0 with a 1560 SAT, APBIO, APChem, APPhysics, CALCAB, internship in lab….counselor says…”I don’t really see you as a STEM person”

  • Is your student feeling unheard and/or unsupported?

I am sure there are more red flags….but just a start!


Yes. They also assign counselors during 4th form(10th grade) year.

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Mercersburg currently has 7 college counselors. They assign each student to a counselor in their first year. But the real work begins mid-year 11th grade. That averages out to about 17 seniors per counselor. I know a small handful (fewer than 5 over our 8 years at the school) parents who have hired private counselors to supplement the school’s counselors. I have been really pleased with the level of attention given to my kids as well as the level of expertise/connection to colleges that our school’s CC team has. When I’ve reached out to them as a parent I get really good and thoughtful replies within 24 hours. YMMV though…


I spoke with college counseling head and they said by senior year each counselor has 40 seniors. They of course don’t recommend an outside counselor unless your kid is super reluctant and “you just have the resources and want another opinion”. Not sure we fall into either category. Meanwhile all my local friends still push having a counselor.

Shes my first kid and definitely more sensitive and needs a lot of feedback. I feel like my younger one is pretty self sufficient; I just worry that I will go through the experience and wish I had hired one.

Since we are coming from public schools, I guess I have a different background view on this. At the age approaching graduation, can’t kids do most of the work applying for colleges? All my own mother did was the FAFSA. It seems like kids hire consultants/counselors for everything these days including writing their BS essays. When does it end?


I don’t think people hire college counselors because their kids can’t apply on their own. They do it to get best outcome possible. In some cases they know where they want the kid to go (often legacy school) and just want to maximize the chances of that happening. Sometimes people do it because they are looking for specific programs outside of mainstream (BFA etc), and sometimes they just want someone’s help to package the kid the right way to get the best outcome possible. In this scenario, they hire sophomore year of HS, senior year is much too late. But there are also people who just want someone else to nag the kid to stay on task and finish essays and applications, and facilitate timing of the test prep etc. Takes a lot of stress out of the household, and if you have the money, why not? Plus navigating the whole ED minefield which can be very tricky and your school counselor may not be the most helpful there. That said my older kid did just fine without one, but the kids that had one by and large had the results they wanted.

I was speaking with some seniors today, and they recommended me to get a private counselor but only during a very specific time: the winter break your senior year. A lot of the school-based college counselors “sign off” during that time, so having a private counselor to look over your supplements when you have 25 of them due that day can be very helpful.

They don’t recommend anything beyond that, though.

Yes, to be clear I would not hire a college counselor to do anything for my daughter: it’s to have another opinion on classes to choose, topics and edits on essays, creating college lists especially tailored to my child’s needs and skills. It seems like it’s fairly common at my local day school so trying to gauge the need/benefit at boarding.

I feel like this is way too late and pretty useless, if you are lucky you are already done by the (ED notifications come before the break), and most applications have to be in by 1/1 or 1/15 at the latest. Ideally you want to have everything submitted or ready to submit before winter break. If you wait till you hear from ED school and the news is not good, it is very hard to get motivated to finish all the other applications and do great job of it. Even if you don’t do ED, submitting some rolling or EA applications early to have some choices already before winter break reduces the stress a great deal. I had a procrastinator who pushed against a bunch of deadlines and changed/added to the list late in the game and we scrambled because it is hard to do anything once school shuts down for the break even if you had your own counselor. And if they came on this late you’d run the risk of conflicting messages as it is very unlikely they’d be on the same page as the school counselor.

While I don’t know Kent specifically, I think boarding schools are pretty similar. Keep in mind that your interests and theirs are aligned – you both want your child to get into the best school possible for them.

The school will 100% manage the nuts and bolts of the process. No need for a parent to be involved in the essay writing timeline etc.

The one area the school will need help from you is in figuring out the type of school your child likes. You will know your child better than any college counselor (the school’s, or a private one). So you do need to visit different types of schools, which will shape your child’s college list.

Alert the media! I have something nice to say about Kiddo’s school today :joy: The college counselor provided Kiddo with their cellphone and said something like this “Even though I am on summer vacation and will be fishing in Alaska, please call if you need anything”.

Called once. The counselor answered the phone. Asked which bait was being used and then asked about an essay. Didn’t like the answer. Did it our way, instead. But - it was nice of him to encourage kiddo to call if needed. All turned out ok.


Oh, it’s incredibly unadvisable. Doesn’t stop 99% of seniors (including the responsible ones with good time management) from ending up in said situation anyways.

Attention Wal-Mart shoppers! Reality check in aisle 5.

It is prudent to do some research on the college advisor you are assigned. Why are they a college advisor at your prep school? Are they the hockey coach who had to also fill another position? Are they also the art teacher? What is their priority? How much experience do they have in advising? Do they personally know the regional reps for your reach/target colleges? What kind of efforts will they take to get to know YOU? Have you EVER met this person before on campus? Is their approach formulaic? Do they really listen to you and take time to understand the “why” behind you want a college? Do they take time to explain scholarships & FA? Do they help your parents understand?

Or…do they make you feel “less than” you feel you are? Do they diminish your accomplishments? Do they discourage you from reaching? Do they not suggest other schools to you than those you mentioned? Do they tell you to apply to colleges you have NO INTEREST in because they are just a bad fit or don’t align with your priorities?

There are two factors I believe are important in the student-college advisor relationship: Trust and Expectations.


Am I correct in my assumption that you don’t get to choose which advisor you have? Can you ever switch?

Is there a different track for D1 recruitable athletes given the likely earlier timeline?

I can only speak from our kiddo’s experience. For those students hoping to be a recruited athlete, the process started earlier and they were assigned a counselor earlier - it was supposed to be in the spring of Sophomore year, but then COVID happened. There are some counselors who are particularly experienced with recruiting. We had one of those. You can also add another dimension by signing up for a recruiting platform that will package your kiddo’s highlight video, stats, coaches contact info, club info, etc. The platforms also have links to college coaches so your kid can start contacting them and sending videos. You will be notified when a coach looks at your kid’s video.

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I have a friend who’s trying to get recruited, and he’s mostly doing it independently (though we are getting our counselor assignments tomorrow, so then he’ll get some more support).

At Lawrenceville, you can request a specific CC if you knew them previously (all of them advise students in Circle/Crescent (sophomore/junior) Houses), and most people get their request, though it’s not guaranteed.

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My kid’s CC at George School walked on water as far as our family was concerned. And she did things an outside CC couldn’t-- like talking to his coaches about which schools were also fits for his sport and helping him connect with recent grads at schools he was considered. She totally “got” DS. Suggested schools he liked. Pushed him to write a couple of essays until he came up with “the one”. Was that perfect combo of great listener and highly opinionated.

Parents never saw the common app. Ds ran everything by his CC (even when she was abroad for her own kid’s wedding) so didn’t have to deal with us.

I have heard of BS kids who used outside counselors but we had no need at all. I would say that if you are considering this, you should find out how/if your school would like to work with them.

I would also say that after our experience, I would highly recommend a CC to a kid in a our local LPS, where each GC has about 150 kids and college counseling is jus one of the things that they do. Having an expert in your camp makes the process so much easier and productive.

We don’t get to choose counselors as far as I know: and frankly I wouldn’t know which to request as it’s our first year and my daughter doesn’t know any of them. I’m worried that she won’t “vibe” with her counselor and we won’t know that until presumably we have had to make the decision about a private counselor.

The school did say that they don’t make it part of the counselors job to work with an outside counselor, which I get. I don’t take it to mean that it will be adversarial but that the school isn’t going to take on extra work and communication because we have paid for an outside counselor.

We have a virtual introduction with one tomorrow and will be interested to hear their perspective.